In Japan, there is a belief that when an inanimate object reaches its 100th birthday, it may develop a soul and potentially engage in mischievous behavior towards people. This phenomenon is known as tsukumogami, or haunted artifacts.
While this timeframe is not set in stone, it represents a considerable duration. These items exhibit anger and resentment when they are discarded after years of faithful service. Many of these objects hold value and have been well-maintained, including instruments, work tools, teapots, and cookware. On the other hand, some items have become outdated due to technological advancements, such as cassette tapes. Neglected items that manage to survive for 99 years are even more prone to transformation and may exhibit their frustration by moving around and creating noise.
“Hyakki yagyo“ is a term from “Konjaku Monogatari Shu“ (The Collection of Tales of the Past and Present) and other tales that are considered to be written in the later time of the Heian period (794-1185). The translation of “Hyakki”(百鬼) is “one hundred demons” and “Yagyo”(夜行) is “night parade” and it describes a procession of frightening and bizarre-looking “Yokai” appearing out of nowhere and roaming along the main streets of Kyoto in the dark.
Numerous tsukumogami, these animated household items, would gather together and parade throughout the city, causing fear and unease among the residents. Regarded as a genuine threat, they were eventually confronted by the Gohi Doji of the Myo-oo, who advised them to either seek enlightenment or face destruction.
One of the original drawings of this mysterious phenomenon is seen in the “Hyakki Yagyo Emaki (picture scroll)”, attributed to Mitsunobu Tosa), drawn in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) and owned by Daitokuji Temple Shinju-an in Kyoto.
To this day, the path along which they marched remains in Kyoto and is seen as a symbolic boundary between enlightened culture and the untamed wilderness of rural Japan. This path is especially noteworthy as it features shrines specifically dedicated to objects like eyeglasses and needles, which were regarded as groundbreaking discoveries that significantly enhanced people’s lives.
When it comes to parting with cherished possessions, there is a customary practice of ceremonially burning them at a temple. This act serves as a gesture of respect and gratitude for the services provided by the item. Likewise, personal possessions that hold sentimental value but are no longer needed, such as photographs and dolls, should also be burned rather than casually discarded.
Would you like to learn more about Japanese folklore?
Once again, go to the roots, not to the fruits. The best way is to dwell into the original stories and myths that shaped modern aesthetics, especially if you want to apply it to tattooing faithfully and respectfully. One great place to start can be the podcast “Uncanny Japan”, an easily digestible collection of stories to provide you with cultural context and background.
From their website:
“Uncanny Japan is the brainchild of author Thersa Matsuura. Thersa has lived over half her life in Small Town, Japan, first arriving back in 1990 to study at the University of Shizuoka for two years. Her fluency in the language as well as her immersion in the culture allow her to do quite a bit of research for her books and stories. She is especially passionate about strange legends, unfamiliar folktales, curious superstitions, and all those obscure aspects of the culture that aren’t generally known.
As a way to more widely share these fun and fascinating facts, Thersa started the Uncanny Japan Podcast back in 2017, releasing a new episode twice a month.
Another unique aspect about Uncanny Japan is her use of binaural mics to record soundscapes from Japan. Depending on the season, you can listen to the shows and hear a background of winter ocean waves, spring frogs in rice fields, summer festivals, or fall night insects and more. It feels like you’re really sitting in Japan listening to her tell you about all those weird bits of the culture you didn’t know you didn’t know.
Thersa Matsuura is a graduate of Clarion West (2015), recipient of HWA’s Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship (2015), and the author of another collection, A Robe of Feathers and Other Stories (Counterpoint LLC, 2009). She’s also had stories published in various magazines and anthologies including: Black Static, Fortean Times, Madhouse, and The Beauty of Death Anthology. Her newest collection — The Carp-Faced Boy and Other Stories (Independent Legions Publishing) was a finalist for The Bram Stoker Award (2017).”